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2014 CBC Poetry Prize: "Coyote Medicine/Medicine Coyote" by Alessandra Naccarato

In this shortlisted poem for the 2014 CBC Poetry Prize, the surreal apparition of a coyote pack brings up questions of bloodlines and the traces that remain.


image-coyote.jpg

COYOTE MEDICINE

Walking across the tarmac in Toronto, twelve of them panting. 
Planes forced to stop; nothing landing, nothing leaving. 
Just big silver birds facing small wild dogs, as pilots explain 
through cackling loudspeakers and passengers crane to catch 
a pack walking through the memory of a forest.

My aunt faces her garden, tea steaming like the breath
of the Rideau Canal. Watches a coyote walk through her yard, 
legs deep in drifts, snow grazing its belly.

I shuffle cards until the blue is warm. Spread the deck
like a compass and choose. Smoke coils from abalone 
in Vancouver, as coyote winks from the overturned card.

My grandfather fed his compost to coyotes. Shanks of deer, hunted 
in September, soup bones, rotting potatoes. Left piles by the pond
near his mobile home, since there wasn't much dogs could catch 
in those trees.
 
If your family tries to erase its own bloodline, does it work?
If you can't name your ancestors, are they yours? Or is this
what is meant by the trick. You are only who you think you are
and not even that. A face no one has an answer for, a deck      
of thrift cards, a quarter of you whited out like a misspelling
and the story unspoken. Trying to heal a thing you can't name,
unsure if a predicate stands before appropriation.

My grandfather walked even when cancer crept in his bones. Through
drifts of winter, carrying bones in a bag. Wanted to leave his land with 
something returning, if only in marrow and scraps.

I leave the coyote face up beside a jar of honey and candles; 
this small prayer for sweetness. I know there's more winter, more questions, 
a country between me and my grandfather's land, no place to find answers 
and months until spring.

Part way through the yard, the coyote pauses. Turns, faces my aunt. Dips 
its snout slightly. She places her palm to the glass.

It takes nearly three hours for Pearson to recover. After the coyotes are shot
with sedatives, rounded up by luggage carriers. As the radio controllers usher
and passengers sip cola, one by one, the pilots manage to forget the sight
of ferns rising under the feet of the dogs.



MEDICINE COYOTE

as in: to trick, to hoodwink the medicine. And it's hoods we're talking about, Dani. When you first made those coats, they were for arctic explorers whose eyelashes froze from the wet of their eyes, who needed goose-down and coyote fur on their hoods to survive where their ancestors hadn't, to eradicate climate change or drill for more oil, whatever their contracts were for. 

How many coats can you trim with the fur of one coyote? I'll ask next time 
I see CEO Reiss. After all, we went to the same high school. Just wondering 
how many of your trappers are Inuit? What percentage of the jacket do you 
pay per pelt? When you say you share the values of the North, do you mean 
staying warm? Or something more applaudable. 

Let's be honest, Dani. In Forest Hill, there aren't many trees. Just big lawns and 
credit cards, kids with keen fashion. No one cares what PETA says, why try 
indigenize the fur? It's a slow, mass death on those hoods, however you claim it. 
In our old class, no tenth grader prays to his jacket. No girl feeds the spirit of the 
trim. They celebrate how invisible they are beneath the hood. Thank god their 
parents built your company, now maybe no one will notice their skin.


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